~the Great Barrier Reef, in grayscale, 22 August 2008~
A year ago, this past Saturday, I went on my first dive on the Great Barrier Reef. It was an amazing experience - it was not just my first dive on GBR, but my first dive anywhere. I can still close my eyes and see the color - the rich royal blue of the starfish, shades of green, darts of color.
Coral reef ecosystems are slowly - and sometimes not so slowly - being degraded. A recent article suggests that fish populations in the Caribbean are declining in proportion to coral reefs.
Tonight I thought about that reef - devoid of color. And I thought about how connected everything is, and how I hope folks catch on to this before it's too late. I'd like to think it's not too late.
Flipper was one of the most beloved television characters of all time. But ironically, the fascination with dolphins that he caused created a tragic epidemic that has threatened their existence and become a multibillion dollar industry. The largest supplier of dolphins in the world is located in the picturesque town of Taijii, Japan. But the town has a dark, horrifying secret that it doesn't want the rest of the world to know. There are guards patrolling the cove, where the dolphin capturing takes place, who prevent any photography. The only way to stop the evil acts of this company and the town that protects it is to expose them....and that's exactly what the brave group of activists in The Cove intend to do.Armed with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, the members of the small group, led by the most famous dolphin trainer in the world, devise a covert plan to infiltrate the cove to document the horrifying events that happen there. Along the way, they uncover what may be the largest health crisis facing our planet— the poisoning of our seas. Part environmental documentary, part horror film, part spy thriller, The Cove is as suspenseful as it is enlightening. The final result is a heart-wrenching, but inspirational, story that shows the true power of film in the hands of people who aren't afraid to risk everything for a vital cause.
I learned tonight that South Carolina was the first - and is currently the only - state in the union that has banned the capture and display of cetaceans. The ban went into effect in 1992.
Much of the documentary focused on Ric O'Barry - the former 'Flipper' trainer-turned-cetacean-activist. He's now the Campaign Director for SaveJapanDolphins.org - and he was compelling in the film, a man who woke up one day thinking 'what have I done?' and is now spending his life making up for the damage done by making the bottlenose dolphin everyone's favorite oceanic pet.
The Microbial Lab is now studying the microbiome of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin. We hope to expand this work at some point to other cetaceans. Tonight I watched the film, hoping that perhaps our work could really make a difference - and maybe, if we're lucky, it will. But during the question and answer session at the end of the film (with Phillipe Cousteau of Earth Echo International), a woman from the audience asked 'what about the use of dolphins in helping autistic children?' - as if the forced captivity of one mammal to help a human trumps everything. How many autistic children have access to a dolphin for therapy? And...why a dolphin? The question, to me, just seemed to encompass everything that is wrong with how we as a species view other mammals. Ever since I was little I haven't gotten that mentality - that human-centric thing - that sense of denial that we aren't just another mammal too.
If you get a chance to see the film, I'd recommend it.
(PS I know, I know, I need to stop eating meat - including fish. I shouldn't rant again until I've done so.)
Update, 15 July 2009: My friend and I agreed that it should have been called 'Harry Potter and Friends Do Puberty' - and we were in a theater filled with 90% high school students. After we parked and were walking to the theater, a wand appeared out of a passing car's window and a young guy in a cape yelled 'Stupefy!!". You've gotta love it. Perhaps after criticisms that the past two movies were too dark, they tried to lighten things up a bit - too much for me I think. With that said, we wouldn't have thought of missing the midnight show!